Friday, September 10, 2010

Valuable Feedback

The NYT asked eight experts to weigh in on "value-added" methods of measuring  Ravitch and LDH take their expected shots at it, while Ed Trust's Amy Wilkins had this to say:

Valuable Feedback

Updated September 7, 2010, 12:27 PM

Amy Wilkins is vice president of the Education Trust, a research and advocacy group.

Parents know that some teachers are stronger than others. Teachers know it, too. Yet flawed and archaic evaluation systems in most school districts fail to make meaningful distinctions. In fact, virtually every teacher in America is deemed to be doing at least a "satisfactory" job -- even in schools where too few students are learning enough.

While not perfect, "value-added" methods provide a fair picture of how well teachers are doing -- and teachers appreciate it.

When teachers are denied honest information about how they are doing, how can they possibly be expected to improve?

Common sense says there must be a better way to evaluate teacher performance. And there is. Years of research suggest that, while not perfect, "value-added" methods provide a far more honest and fair picture of how well teachers are doing, especially when coupled with rigorous classroom observation.

This method measures the contribution of an individual teacher to an individual student's learning. Instead of relying on a single end-of-the-year test score, it examines growth over the course of a school year. So even when a student enters a classroom far below grade level, if that student makes big learning gains, the teacher gets credit for those gains. In fact, she gets far more credit for that student than for one who started the year a little above average but ended in the same place.

When summed over several years, these data can provide teachers with valuable feedback about what kinds of students they are most successful with and with whom they need to improve. They can help schools match the most able teachers with the students who most need them. And they can help leaders better target teacher supports and rewards. But relatively few districts actually use their data in these ways. And that's unfair to our teachers and their students.

No one is suggesting that "value-added" measures be the sole criteria of teacher reviews. But they provide important information that teachers and principals need. Indeed, when presented with their data last month, Los Angeles teachers commonly expressed frustration that the district hadn't shared it sooner. To continue to ignore their frustration would be a terrible and costly mistake.

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